Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Call Me Desperate

“Look, the father has no money.”
“How do you know?”
“The shadchan said ‘A poshiter yid.”
“That just means a normal person.”
“No. That’s the same as saying, ‘Somebody insignificant, I can think of nothing he is noteworthy of.”
“Then how do you know it is only money he doesn’t have? Maybe he has no brains either?”
“You’re learning!”
“Or yichus or personality or looks?”
“So what else did he say?”
“He said the girl is sweet.” This is uttered with a smirk of distaste.
“Ah? And that’s not good?”
“Motty, I thought you were listening? What is sweet? Sweet is pretty? No. Pretty is pretty. So Miss Sweet is not pretty.”
Motty is used to the logic of the Talmud and he recognises a straight line when he sees one.
“Ok, so she’s not pretty. Vus noch?”
“She’s got ‘a good heart.” Again her words hang starkly in their inverted commas.
“OK a ‘good heart’ I know this one!” Motty shouts jubilantly. “A good heart is a laidigayer and a Shaigetz whom you can find nothing at all nice to say about.”
“No,” she says wearily, “that’s for a boy. When you say a girl has a good heart it means she has no personality. It is usually joined up with, ‘She always makes peace among all the other girls.’
She is the one nobody wants to be friends with and she has a good heart for not fighting back.”
“So what else do we know about her and her family?”
“They don’t have any friends.”
“Nu, how do you know that?”
“He described them as quiet people living simple lives and not showing off.”
“Ok. So that’s it? That’s all you know?”
“She is average height, she has brown hair and brown eyes and she is eighteen and a half.”
“Wow! How did you figure all that out?”
“The shadchan told me.”
“Oh. So then we should tell him, why should we take a girl with no family no money and no looks and who everybody bullies for our son?”
She stops him with a stern look and holds the silence for a moment.
“He will ask you, ‘You are selling any better?”
“Nu, I will say, ‘Yes. Maybe I am not Rothschild but I make a living.”
“If the shadchen knew what you are earning, he would tell them about you what he told us about them.”
“My father is an important man.”
“Important to whom? To your mother? To his tenants? To the people he owes money to?
Leave me alone with important. If they are as important as your father I will be happy.”
“Shoin. So I will say, ‘I want a girl mit a bissel character. More a leader.”
“Ovay! You know what you are saying? They will start bringing you all the chutzpah girls . The loud ones. A leader? What's a leader? A leader is the one who gets all the others in trouble. A troublemaker they call a leader. Azah leader, I would lead her to the prison.”
“You are so clever my neshamele. So what should I say to the man?”
“Tell him he should make a time and we will meet these people and see what they got.”
“You sure?” he asks earnestly, uncertainty evident in his voice.
“Yes, Motty dear. And do me a favour; the kids are running around upstairs, go up there and show them who the man is in this house.”

Monday, July 06, 2009

JFS Between Ourselves

Britain's United Synagogue has determinedly struggled to portray Judaism as an alternative version of Christianity for as long as I can remember. The clergy look the same as the same as their Christian counterparts and usually sound roughly the same. Most are equally apologetic for any inconvenience their beliefs and customs might cause and equally eager to bend over backwards to accommodate any difference of opinion even at the expense of watering down their own quasi-beliefs.

True, our star does not look quite like the cross, and the crucifixion and resurrection are only remotely mirrored in secular Judaism's holocaust and independence worship, still to the week-end adherent the two religions are differentiated only by superficial minutiae.

I attended a lavish Bat-Mitzva party recently. It was in a popular, very upmarket venue and the menu was kosher style. I, the lone kosher guest was honoured with a specially ordered, enthusiastically cling wrapped and doubly sealed kosher meal. The theme was High School Musical and a talented troupe of 'high school' dancers entertained the guests between the elegant courses.

I had just remarked to my wife how 'normal' it must seem to the goyim who had probably come with a little trepidation to a Jewish religious party, when one of them leaned across the table to me. “I love your Jewish parties,” he screamed above the blaring rendition of Start of Something New. “They are so much more meaningful than ours.”

Israel's Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is unapologetic in his views. His declaration last week that the innocent victims of the holocaust were probably reincarnates who had sinned in previous lives raised a ruckus when it was reported in the media. This apparently is what he believes, based on his vast, intimate and probably unique perception of His workings. The great unlearned in the media, who in their utter ignorance chose to portray it as criticism of the departed are just as entitled to make their point as he was. Rabbi Yosef remains unperturbed and unrepentant.

Unfortunately, our Great British leaders have none of this decisive finality.We can only choose between the U.S. politically correct approach, which teaches us to think we are probably right but also to accept that the others might be right too; So we are the chosen people but if that offends anyone we can negotiate it away. Or, on the other side of the spectrum, the local Charedi leadership, teaching that we are the chosen people and if anybody says different they are fascists and antisemites.

It has not always been so. England's former Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jacobowitz was never one to mince his words. Among other controversial remarks, he risked the ire of his own community to publicly opine that eventually Israel would have to make peace with the Arabs. In a time when that view was considered almost blasphemous in his community, he suffered for his frankness but refused to qualify it. As one paper wrote when he passed away, “He is the one prelate whose preaching did not, in the views of Mrs Thatcher, give God a bad name.”

London's late Rav Padwa was not one to be pushed around either. He once spectacularly agreed to remove his rabbinate's revered stamp of approval from a kosher hotel in Bournmouth, after some pious wankers in his rabbinate complained there were TVs (gasp!) in the bedrooms. After promptly giving in to them he went on to declare that henceforth his hechsher would apply only to the food served there. As his supervision had always been limited to the kitchen and dining room anyway (to the best of my knowledge there were never any hidden video cameras under the eiderdowns) nothing actually changed.

The JFS policy of enrolling only orthodox certified Jews is a cynical attempt at maintaining as Orthodox a Jewish school where most children's exposure to yiddishkeit is practically limited to the school's 'Love of Israel' program and the occasional Bat Mitva bash.

The school will not maintain a Jewish character by refusing admittance to those it does not consider Jewish enough. Empirical evidence has shown that Jewish values are nurtured in the home, not school, and they are rarely eroded by exposure to non-Jews. Conversely the school Purim and Tu Bishvat celebrations so beloved by the secular parents for being universal, normal and inoffensive will not on their own nurture a new generation of committed Jews however goyrein the class.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Age of Experience

With age comes experience, they say.

I don't know whether the reason my views change is to do with experience gained or simply because we change as we age. What is certain is that much of the anger that boiled within me when I first started blogging has largely subsided or muted. I have come to accept that the lifestyle I promote is no more necessarily correct for everyone than the one I like to bash.

Indeed the Torah im Derech Ertetz model that worked so well in Germany before the war, and that I see as a model for chassidic neo-orthodoxy, actually relies on the societal norms to curb the worst of the most base of our urges. That does not necessarily work in today's world. We have mostly therefore chosen to shelter our children from most of the excesses of the permissive society. Exposure to the internet however is still supplying our youth with the same information that the precocious local youth is getting.

To illustrate: A young newly-wed I met, was briefly briefed on the facts of life a few weeks before he was wed. He had known before of course, and he had seen some porn once or twice on the web, but it was still quite an experience for him to be suddenly thrown into bed with a quivering virgin. He rose to the cause though, and they set off on life's journey together.

There was just one little thing bothering our man of the hour. She compared slightly unfavourably, in provocative prowess, with the Liliths in those movies. As time progressed and he assiduously studied 'her problem' on the net, the way boys today do, he naturally came to the conclusion she was frigid and needed help. Of course, when they heard, both families came up in arms and it was only with some very professional help and lots of diplomacy that friction was removed from two shattered families and restored to a truly messy conjugal bed.

You cannot just nibble at the apple of knowledge. All the little 'bits' interlink in a million possible ways and there is no way you can control the flow of information once it begins its path. I used to counter-argue that the Internet does have the function of providing the only loudspeaker inside the community. Like this blog gets away with saying what no one dares sign their name to.

I lied.

There is one man who dares to say what no one else dares to say. He lives in New York and his name is Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg. He is a man with a mission. An international mikve expert, he has a telephone hotline in Yiddish in which he regularly rails against sexual abuse of boys in the community. And he does not just rant. He spits into the blind eye of the community authorities. When he gets wind of anything untoward he warns the Rabbis in charge and if it is not dealt with immediately he informs the relevant authorities.

To be fair, I must add that I have spoken to many of these men of dark cloth myself and despite their dangerous and damaging silence, it seems to me that most are truly well-meaning. Most Charedi rabbis display almost pathetically naïve ignorance both of the gravity of the damage sexual abuse causes and the frequency at which it occurs. There is also a strong sense of defending the community by denying they do any wrong much like parents would if you accused their son of stealing.

I again stress that I disagree with those who state it is more widespread than most other places, or even that it is particularly widespread or generally condoned. But it does happen and the fact that touching does not involve a biblical prohibition should not diminish the gravity of the deed.

Rabbi Nuchem says all this and more. He publicly shamed the Jerusalem Rabbinical authorities, who had allowed a Mikve in their own back yard to turn into a den of iniquity right in their blind spot, into placing guards there who would protect the children from preying lechers. He has named many Schools and Yeshivas in the States who harbour molesters on their staff. He is listened to by thousands of Chassidim all over the world and he has suffered much abuse for it.

He has been assaulted and had his life threatened, he has had to call on the local police for protection. He has been called all the names in the book by sect after sect - each as one of theirs was targeted. (Before that each had smugly revelled in the other's discomfort.) But he persevered. He has been labelled a publicity seeker, but I have learned he declined to be interviewed by the British Guardian newspaper because their anti-Israeli image suggested that it would provoke negative publicity rather than momentum for change.

Reb Nuchem has made a very personal sacrifice for the sake of the pure little victims who would have their innocent lives shattered to relieve the fleeting urges of the sick and egotistical parasites who roam the education system like greedy diabetics in a candy store. He humbles me, who would not sacrifice my personal well being and that of my family for the cause. But I am still a good sight younger than him.

I sincerely hope that by the time I reach the age of his wisdom the problem will no longer exist.

Monday, January 05, 2009

terse verse

Do not be blinded by their lies
Hatreds as old as the hills are a playing here,
Rage, rage against appeasement of the beast.

Though wise men know sometimes dark is right
Our liberals strike but fork their lightning.
Do not get blinded by their lies.

Good men wave goodbye with heavy hearts.
Have the deadly deeds over, let’s live in peace.
Rage, rage against appeasement of the beast.

Wise men who truly know no race nor creed
Having learned too late they were used by It,
Do not get blinded by their lies.

Sad men, near death, who still focus with deadly sights
Blind eyes, could blaze with meteors and still be gay?
Rage, rage against appeasement of the beast.

And you, my Father, there on sad height,
Bless us instead with your fierce tears, I pray we
Do not get blinded by their lies.
Rage, rage against appeasement of the beast.